Tuesday, November 25 at 11 AM

Where can you get a three-star experience at one-star prices? Which hot new restaurant merits the scorching hype? The answer to all these questions and more can be found Tuesdays at 11 AM on Kliman Online.

Where can you get a three-star experience at one-star prices? Which hot new restaurant merits the scorching hype? The answer to all these questions and more can be found Tuesdays at 11 AM on Kliman Online.

From scoping out scruffy holes in the wall to weighing the merits of four-star wanna-bes, from scouring the ‘burbs and exurbs to hitting the city’s streets, Todd Kliman covers a lot of territory.

Winner of a James Beard Foundation Award in 2005 for the country’s best newspaper column about food, Kliman is food and wine editor and restaurant critic for The Washingtonian. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Oxford American, Lucky Peach, The Daily Beast and Men’s Health, among others, and he has been selected four times for inclusion in the Best Food Writing anthologies. A finalist for the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award, he took home first-place honors for feature writing, in 2013, from the Association of Food Journalists.

He is the author, most recently, of The Wild Vine, a literary exploration of two entwined mysteries: an obscure grape that rose to prominence, only to disappear, and its present-day evangelist, a foul-mouthed transgendered multi-millionaire vintner on an obsessive quest to restore the legend of an antebellum southern doctor. Barnes & Noble and The Oxford American both made it an Editor’s Pick. The Richmond TImes-Dispatch called it “an outstanding piece of literature.”

Kliman previously taught writing and literature at American University and Howard University. At Howard, he was also the editorial advisor to The Illtop Journal, Chris Rock’s humor magazine modeled after the Harvard Lampoon.

Can’t wait a week to talk to Todd? Follow him on Twitter for dining reports, tips, and breaking news from the culinary world. Or write to him: tkliman@washingtonian.com



Ocopa, DC

Not cheap for H St., but the quality of the fish is high and 24-year-old chef Carlos is a talent. His plates are striking, and his flavors pop. Ocopa functions best when you think of it as a place to divvy up small plates of tiradito and ceviche and causa (his version of papa a la huancaina, a potato salad, is so sublime it makes the picnic staple you’re probably imagining look like prison food) while tanking down cocktails (among which you’ll find expert renditions of pisco and rum punch).

Saba, Fairfax

At a recent meal at this Yemeni gem, I ate injera, pita, and wheat bread (the latter baked for a marvelous bread pudding called masoob, layered with bananas, cream, honey and nigella that is a little bit different with each bite). Owner Taha Alhoraivi didn’t know how to cook a single dish from his tradition when he arrived in the States 15 years ago on a student visa. He didn’t even know how to cook. His mother and sister had barred him from the kitchen; cooking was women’s work. He subsisted for months on eggs, bread and cheese, until he returned home for a visit and prevailed upon the women in his family to share their recipes with him. Thus began a 15-year-journey of research and experimentation, as Alhoraivi sought to recreate the foods of his youth in isolation. Saba is the remarkable result. The two must-orders are the haneeth and the fahsa. The former is a strapping platter of slow-cooked lamb, seasoned with cardamom, cumin and cloves, that comes apart without prodding and some of the most flavorful rice you’ll ever eat — each grain is distinct, and tastes richly of the meat. The latter is a shredded beef stew in a sauce of tomatoes, onions and cumin so concentrated it might as well be a syrup; the crowning touch is a dollop of hilbeh, a tangy dip flavored with mint and cilantro.

Casa Luca, DC

The most casual of the restaurants in Fabio Trabocchi’s collection has found its groove. This is an assured operation from top to bottom, and from its opening nibbles to its pastas (go for the San Leo — ravioli stuffed with wild greens and ricotta and treated to a sauce of butter, toasted almonds and nepitella) to its dazzling preparations of fish and seafood to its light, colorful and exquisitely crafted desserts. I joked to a friend at dinner recently that the cornish hen minestrone was “too flavorful” — its broth so intense and rich that I had to stop talking and give all my attention to it.

Ray’s to the Third, Arlington

It’s as stripped down as a restaurant can get; even some food trucks pay more attention to creating an experience. But it still makes the best burger around, the steak ’n’ cheese is better than a Philly cheesesteak, and the milkshakes, including a booze-spiked Bananas Foster, are fabulous.

DGS Delicatessen, DC

Founding chef Barry Koslow has left to open Pinea, set to make its debut any day now at the W Hotel, but things haven’t exactly slacked with new chef Brian Robinson. It’s almost impossible to come here and not gorge on matzo ball soup (note to the kitchen: a wee bit more schmaltz in the broth, please), chopped chicken liver, and pastrami, but there’s a lot more here than just deli. (What am I saying, “just deli”? Since when is deli itself not enough? And this deli especially.) The tongue gyro is terrific. So is the chicken schnitzel, made with pounded chicken thighs; it comes with whipped potatoes and tangy red cabbage, and puts you in mind of something you’d see at Central Michel Richard. A new dessert is also a winner: a banana split with salted caramel ice cream and toasted almonds.

Baby Wale, DC

I’d love Tom Power’s place just for the go-go soundtrack alone — on a recent Saturday night, it simmered with the chunky syncopations of the godfather of the scene, Chuck Brown. (Wind me up, Chuck!) The thing to do is to order up a glass of wine — any wine (Power knows his stuff; his list is fantastic) — and a bowl of soup — any soup (Power makes some of the best in the city) — and then settle in with the terrific ribeye and fries.

Gypsy Soul, Falls Church

An outtake from my recent review: “Gypsy Soul is informed by Southern cooking in the same way that Kid Rock is informed by country music. Like chef R.J. Cooper, Rock hails from Detroit, is tatted, has long stringy hair and fancies himself a kind of badass vagabond. Like Cooper, his gift is in braiding strands that aren’t generally braided.” I love the chicken fried quail, one of the most perfect high-end dishes out there right now (perfectly conceived, perfectly executed), the chicken skins are maddeningly addictive, the oyster stew manages to be both daring and delicious, and the crabcake gets it exactly right. There have been problems, in the early going, with salting (both under- and over-), and some dishes haven’t delivered the promised richness or depth. I expect these wrinkles to unwrinkle over time. The too-slick space is another matter.

Ananda, Fulton

Two of the best meals I had this summer took place here. And I don’t say that just because of the food coming out of the kitchen. The restaurant itself is a showpiece. From outside, it looks a little like a castle and a little like a bank, and sits in the middle of nowhere, amid a still-evolving development of townhouses in Fulton, Md. Inside, the space summons a polo club. The main dining room is a sumptuous lair of handsome dark wood, floor-to-ceiling bookcases and leather seats, while the veranda puts you in mind of an observation deck for a cricket match (it’s already one of the best places to dine on an unseasonably cool summer night, under the gently rotating fans and looking out on the lush treetops). In an age of casual, sometimes dashed-out service, Ananda leans toward greater formality — but without stuffiness. The young, affable waitstaff is got up in vests and ties, and is exceedingly well-drilled — not just attentive but vigilant, and determined to learn what it can do to make your meal better. The restaurant is the third from brothers Keir and Binda Singh, who also run The Ambassador Dining Room and Banjara, both in Baltimore. They maintain their own farm not far from the restaurant, complete with an herb garden — a highly unusual practice for an Indian restaurant in this area. Add to that the quality of the meats and fishes, which is several notches above that of the curry house, and you have a brand of cooking that is lighter and fresher than any Indian restaurant in the area not named Rasika. Given this emphasis, you might expect the dishes to experiment a little, to rethink traditional dishes in whimsical or dramatic ways. But for the most part Ananda is attempting a different, less obvious kind of fusion — the fusion of the local-leaning bistro with the conventional Indian restaurant. The preparations of black dal, chana, and raita are among the most complex I’ve tasted in years, and unexpectedly clean-tasting. A dish of salmon was perfectly roasted, with a subtle melange of tomatoes, cinnamon and cumin for a sauce. A watermelon salad with feta could have stood in for any trendy bistro in DC, except that its spicing was unmistakably Indian, and the dressing and its garnishes were both so stunningly fresh I would have thought I was dining at some gastronomic getaway in the country. I could have eaten three bowls of a recent special, a chilled summer squash and carrot soup, subtly spiced and tasting of fresh vegetables, not cream.

Thai Taste by Kob, Wheaton

On a three-block stretch of Wheaton, near the intersection of University Blvd. and Georgia Ave., can be found two of the area’s best Thai restaurants — Ruan Thai and Nava Thai. Time to add a third. Phak Duangchandr — Kob, to friends — has set up shop in the tiny space that originally contained Nava, in the back of Hung Phat market. Thai food fans may remember her, or at least her cooking; for 19 years she operated the Thai Food Carryout at Thai Market, near the old Safeway in Wheaton. The new setting, electrified with a paint job of orange and day-glo green, gives her a chance to expand her repertoire of dishes, while staying true to the from-scratch traditions that earned her a devoted following. The emphasis is on street food and homecooking, with a good many dishes you simply won’t find anywhere else, like bamee moo daeng, a meal-in-a-bowl of tender egg noodles, red-edged roast pork, baby bok choy, and fish balls; or kai yad sai, an omelette stuffed with ground chicken punched up with fish sauce and soy sauce; or a salad of shrimp paste-flavored rice, onions, cucumber and sweet, sticky pork). But even familiar tastes, taste different here — funkier, more pungent, and definitely hotter (a shrimp fried rice, alive with fistfuls of Thai basil and a generous pinch of chilis, set my heart to racing). Some customers have already been asking for more rice to accompany their orders. Partner and manager Max Praserptmate says he’s willing to accommodate any requests, but adds that his aunt’s cooking isn’t the aberration; it’s the great majority of Thai restaurants that are the aberration. “The taste,” he says, “is what you’re supposed to get from your Thai food.” Duangchandr imports many of her spices from Thailand, and toasts and grinds them herself. All the condiments on the spice tray, including a terrific chili vinegar, are made on the premises. Meats are given a long soak before hitting the grill — 72 hours, in the case of the pork that is pounded and threaded onto a skewer to create a must-order starter called moo yang. The other must-order starter sure doesn’t sound like it — when was the last time you had fried shrimp wontons that were any good? These are fabulous. Kiew tod comes to the table looking more like a plate of tortilla chips, the mix of shrimp and white pepper bundled within a sneakily rolled edge. The crunch is junk food-loud; it’s hard not to believe they weren’t engineered in a lab. No beer or wine yet; Praserptmate says soon on both. I would take the money you’d ordinarily spend on a drink and spring for an extra dish or two (most are under $10, and many items will survive into the next day).

Sushi Capitol, DC

This is a diminished sushi scene: Makoto is no longer special, Kushi has exited, and Sushi-Ko I is gone. That leaves Sushi Taro and Sushi Capitol, and for me, right now, it’s not a debate. Capitol is not as polished an experience as Taro, but neither is it the Zen-like spa of hushed voices and restrained manners — an Important Restaurant to save up for when you are looking to mark an occasion. This is a simple, unassuming spot, a workaday spot, with good, well-sourced fish and a chef who knows how to enhance the raw product without sacrificing the elegance essential to the form. Minoru Ogawa was previously in charge of sushi operations at every Mandarin Oriental property along the Eastern seaboard. He’s a purist at the bar, abjuring gimmicks, fads and clutter. The pieces are small, with tiny pads of rice, and the fish is sliced thin and delicately and draped just so over the pads. This doesn’t just make for an elegant presentation; it ensures that each bite is in balance, with the right proportion of fish to rice. I was in most recently for the omakase, which, at $50 for somewhere between 16-20 pieces, amounts to a sweetheart of a deal in the sushi world — particularly when the yellowtail is so sweet and still tastes of the sea, and the various white fishes are not simply there for padding, and the hand-rolls (passed across the bar as soon as they’re finished, their wrappers warm and crunchy) come with fresh-chopped toro. If you order a la carte, don’t ignore the rolls. The Florida roll, draped with whitened bands of blowtorched salmon belly and sliced avocado, is a stunner in every sense.



The appeal of local that you describe makes perfect sense. If suppliers and chefs and vintners etc. marketed their local product as being unique, I’d be much more likely to try it.

The problem is that to many places use the term local as a substitute for quality. I’m not sure where in the supply chain it breaks down, but (with some notable exceptions) the message that I often see pushed as an eater and drinker is as good as/better than the equivalent product rather than “different.”

When that is the comparison, it seems hard not to fall short – particularly since a product that is imported is often being brought in because it is of high quality, but is being compared to the entire spectrum of local products.

Todd Kliman

Thanks for chiming in on this …

This is thoughtful and honest. I appreciate it.

I’ve written a lot about this, mostly as it relates to wine. The regional winemakers — here and in Missouri, for instance — are constantly talking about the quality of their wines, and not the fact that their wines are different from those of the West Coast and those in Europe.

I understand why they do this. It’s because so much of the wine world, and the high-end world of food in general, is focused on bests. But there are some of us who are not so hung up on bests, on the most exquisite, the hottest, and who appreciate difference for difference’s sake, who love that something is interesting and not the usual. All the better, of course, if that something interesting is pretty good or good.

I wish that’s how winemakers presented their work. I think it’d make a much more persuasive case for why local matters.

Not because it’s great, always, or fresher, but because it expresses something of that place and time.




My wife and I are going to Richmond in a few weeks for a show. Any tips on where good food is to be had?

Todd Kliman

Lots of places nowadays.

I love a restaurant called Edo’s Squid, which many Richmonder foodies have come to take for granted, as other, hipper spots open. It’s a terrific place, and hard to get into at prime time. Get the oyster stew and the braised fennel, and ask your server what things on the daily board of specials are fantastic; when I was there, a few weeks ago, it was fried sugar toads; wonderful.

Dinamo, which has one of the same owners, is also terrific. The menu is part Jewish deli and part Italian. Don’t miss the seafood salad and the sausage, polenta and beans. Both are dishes I could eat every week, and I would love to have a place like this within striking distance of my house.

Perly’s used to be a luncheonette place, a place to go for a simple, no-fuss breakfast or a quick, in-and-out sandwich at lunch. The new owners have renovated it (but lightly, smartly), and taken it back to its long-ago roots as a Jewish deli. I love DGS, but I wish DGS had even half as much texture and zest as this place. It doesn’t tell you about itself, and where this comes from and that comes from, and what its mission is. It puts out good, very well-made food, in abundance (as a deli should), and with joy and love. Terrific whitefish platter, there’s a really good sandwich called the Jewish Sailor (pastrami, sausage, chopped liver, braised red cabbage), and even a simple bagel and lox is pretty memorable.

And finally, Stella’s, for a warm, inimitable atmosphere and hearty and heartfelt preparations of Greek standbys, including the best moussaka I’ve ever eaten.



Todd —

Thought you would be interested in this exchange, mainly as an example of good customer relations.

Whatever one thinks of Little Serow’s policies, it’s fixed-menu-no-substitutions is a problem for pescatarians, vegetarians, etc. I wrote them 2 1/2 years ago and asked if they ever did fish or veg weeks, and they said no.

Then tonight, out of the blue — literally no contact in 2.5 years — they emailed me to let me know they would be doing a fish week the week after Thanksgiving. I have no connections with them (I go to Komi every year or so, but that’s all). I’m still floored.

Begin forwarded message:

On Nov 21, 2014, at 6:01 PM, Little Serow <note@littleserow.com> wrote:

Hi David,

This just in!

The first week in December, we’ll be serving up a seafood-centric version of our northern and northeastern Thai family-style dinner – all kinds of tasty sea critters, including a whole fish. Dinner will be $55, and otherwise things will be business as usual.

Just wanted to give you a little heads up. We’ll post the full menu online Tuesday, December 2. Hope to see you.

My best,


Little Serow

Todd Kliman

Thanks for sharing this. A number of readers also got this note.

Which is, yes, very nice, but mostly just means that someone on staff there keeps very careful records of emails and customer names. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

It’ll be interesting to see what they’ve got planned. Anybody goes, please report back …








Todd Kliman

Oh, legitimate gripe, absolutely.

I’ve seen this many, many, many times, too many to count. The cup of water arrives, and it has no steam at all. Or it has steam, but you can tell that it’s not the deep, penetrative heat of boiled water — it’s the quick-to-dissipate heat of popping something in the microwave for a minute.

Servers have told me that they don’t really heat the water for tea. They microwave it. But of course, when you get coffee in a restaurant, and particularly in a good restaurant, it’s made with water that’s come to a boil.

And yes, tea drinkers are made to flag down servers time after time, when coffee is, as a matter of course, refilled over and over again.

Very few places give a damn about tea. It would be nice to see tea drinkers not just be given their pick of a bag from the wooden chest, but also get a cup of real hot water, along with a nice pot or urn.

The question is, why is tea not put on a par with coffee? Simply because there are more coffee drinkers than tea drinkers? (I don’t know whether there are; I’m guessing. Are there?)

(By the way: I hope your questions and comments don’t get knee-jerk blowback from readers just because you typed in all caps. Internet convention says that’s shouting. Whatever. Doesn’t bother me. And really: as if the Internet is a model of civility.)



Regarding an all bar restaurant:


Stone’s Cove offers an entirely new interactive dining experience with the introduction of the KitBar concept. Our KitBar combines the design of a kitchen and a bar to create one large communal table that surrounds the restaurant’s kitchen, putting guests right in the middle of the action.

Our founder got the idea from parties he has hosted, noticing that partygoers naturally congregated in the kitchen where the food and drinks were being prepared. The KitBar’s slogan “Recess for Adults” embodies that fun, party atmosphere that offers guests a place to enjoy great food and drinks, laugh freely, and recharge their batteries.

Todd Kliman

I have to admit, I’ve known about Stone’s Cove for some time now.

I also have to admit I haven’t visited.

I, and my readers, too, might be missing out, I know; I’ve told myself — “one fine day … “

But I just haven’t been able to get past the menu. Which doesn’t list “starters” or “appetizers” but “appetapas” (complete with registered trademark!). One of the “appetapas” on the current menu: “upside down meatloaf cupcakes.”

Again, it could be great. All of it could be great. One fine day …



In your recent dining adventures, where are you finding the best Chinese food in the area and what are the best dishes you have eaten recently at these places?

Todd Kliman

The best Chinese meal I’ve had in the past few months has been at China Bistro, in Rockville. Wonderful homemade/housemade * dumplings; my two current favorite fillings are pork and celery and shrimp and chives. I also love their cold sesame noodles and their garlic cucumbers. A great cheap, light meal.

Sichuan Jin River has been up and down in my two recent experiences. A really good meal followed by a really disappointing one. But when it’s on, I love the braised fish with sour cabbage and the ma po tofu.

Hong Kong Palace in Falls Church is very good, and of late, more consistent than SJR. I’d go for the cumin lamb and the ma po tofu.

  • We’ve talked about this before: homemade vs. housemade. You always see the latter used in the context of fine dining; you always the former used in the context of a joint or diner. Housemade, as a result, sounds more sophisticated. Homemade is what your grandma does — really, what anybody with some flour and a mixing bowl can do. To me, it’s one more example of the way that restaurants and chefs create us vs. them divisions (as they have always done, going back centuries). Does anyone else find this interesting?



I’m the OP of the communal spaces thread. I can be introverted too and empathize with Shane. I recognize that each time out isn’t going to a night of memorable connections and my comments were a bit exaggerated. At a minimum though, we can all offer to scoot over at bar, move to the center of the metro train so people can get on, and smile as you walk by a neighbor.

And Todd, I disagree that DC will never change its vibe. I think that many of the new residents and longtime residents are excited by these communal experiences, but there are still many barriers and precendents that need to be overcome.

My brother visited from KC a few weeks ago and his friendliness startled most of the waiters and strangers we encountered. For me, it’s a sad reflection of our city that a person is surprised to be treated as one. In the end, it all comes back around.

That’s part of the magic about a place like Rose’s– they treat you as more than a customer, customers treat them as more than hosts/servers/chefs, and the cycle continues. Same for Bub and Pop’s and other restuarants that are wildly popular.

Todd Kliman

I don’t doubt the capacity of people to change. And certainly, the city has changed in many, many ways over the past twenty years.

And yet for all those changes, certain basic things persist. I grew up here; I know this place inside and out. I speak, I hope, with affection, but also candor and honesty. This is not a friendly city. And parts of it — parts that spill into Montgomery County — are very, very chilly. The infusion of young people, and the rapid technological changes of the past decade, have driven a lot of what we’re seeing in the restaurant world now. Some of this is good. But this is still a place that is a magnet for people who come to work hard and who, because of that, are not much interested in anything other than working hard and playing hard. The city has become extraordinarily expensive, and that means it’s also become more narrow, more targeted, and much less of the messy mix that a city is supposed to be. It still has too many smug and entitled people for my and others’ tastes. Rents are insane; housing prices are insane. By and large, cultural things don’t spring up here; they drift here after they started somewhere else. Whenever something interesting sounding opens here, it’s always much more self-conscious than you would hope for; there’s almost always a sense that the people who started it are holding their breaths or looking to New York for validation. It’s an insecure city, a deeply divided city, a city without a real center, a largely complacent city. Also: a beautiful city, a livable city (if you can afford to live here), a capital-C cultural city.



Hi Todd,

Where would you recommend for dinner for 6 30-somethings in DC. I tried to get a reservation at Le Diplomate to no avail. I want a fun atmosphere/vibe, and more importantly good food.

I don’t want to go anywhere where we would have to wait, so that eliminates a lot of venues (i.e., Roses Luxury 🙁 ) I managed to get a reservation at DBGB but am scared since I haven’t been yet, and this group always depends on me for picking the right restaurant. Thoughts? It’s a lot of pressure.


Todd Kliman

I had a really good meal recently at Crane & Turtle, a place that stumbled out of the gate in my estimation.

The cooking, then, showed care, but some of the dishes were ill-conceived, and I thought the prices were too high for what it was pulling off.

The cooking now? Careful and thoughtful, and, frequently, delicious. To go along with a great, cozy, quirky space and a terrific staff.

I love seeing a place grow like this — grow and improve and fulfill its potential. It doesn’t happen often. But when it does, it’s a wonderful thing to watch.


TEA, CONT. ……….:

Re: Tea Service.

Just had brunch at Artie’s in Fairfax and was reminded of the attention to detail that the service GAR provides. Our tea was served in individual pots with loose leaf tea and the server came by multiple times to see if more boiled water was needed. The only downside was that they only offered 3 varieties and none were very unusual – minor complaint.

Also wanted to see if you’ve been to Lotus Garden in Vienna? They seem to straddle the line between traditional Chinese dishes and “Americanized” Chinese food very well, but I enjoy both their hand pulled and sliced noodle soups and dishes most. The roasted meats have been great some times and just average other times, but on the whole a very reasonable priced and tasty local restaurant in an area that needs more selection in that range.


Todd Kliman


Thanks for chiming in …

GAR always gets these sorts of “little things” — little things that are, in reality, big things to many diners — right. It’s why they’re so popular. I think the foodie spots could learn a lot by studying why their so beloved by so many.

As for Lotus Garden, no, I’ve never been. But you’ve definitely piqued my interest. Any place that does hand-pulled noodles, I’m definitely interested in. I’ll add it to the list. Thanks.

Actually, to go back to my earlier question: would we call these “homemade” noodles or “housemade” noodles? (Personally, I don’t think you would ever read a description in a foodie mag or foodie blog that would refer to them as housemade. Although notice how the word “housemade” instantly seems to elevate the dish in question … )

Gotta run, everyone. T-day stuff to take care of, deadlines to meet, lunch to have …

Have a great and meaningful Thanksgiving!

Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 … [missing you, TEK … ]